Yes, after my declaration of dislike of working with terrain, the irony of the fact that this is yet another post about terrain isn’t lost on me. At the same time it is yet another proof that once you open one particular Pandora’s box, it is very hard to close it again. In this particular case, once I started working on the terrain boards, I became aware that I also needed a way to demark terrain types other than ‘plain grass’, and especially the wood sections. I already made a couple of woods pieces with MDF board as base and didn’t care much for their inflexibility. This made me remember a technique I’ve read about several years ago on TMP, where the terrain surface was made of caulk. Quick search on interwebs provided some rather intriguing tutorials by folks who made entire game mats of this stuff (have a look, some of them are quite impressive). After soaking up the experience of those talented people, I was ready for a trial of my own.
OK, first couple of words about the technique itself. Get yourself a piece of tightly woven fabric like canvas. Next, take a trip to a DIY shop and fetch a container of acrylic caulk used to seal cracks and gaps around the house. It’s important that it’s acrylic and not silicone variant – if the text on the bottle says you can paint over it, that’s what you’re looking for. You’ll also need a caulk gun to squeeze the stuff out of the tube. Finally, get some paint, sand, flock or whatever else you intent to put on the top.
Once you have the materials, the idea is quite simple – spread caulk on the fabric, stick the ‘topping’ on top and hope everything sticks together once the caulk sets. The final ‘product’ is flexible and can follow the contours of terrain, such as hills. It’s this property that makes this technique rather interesting.
Here’s a walkthrough of my first try.
I had a bit of difficulty finding the fabric that I felt was up to the task. In the end I bought a roll of cotton painting canvas from local arts shop. 6 meters long and 50 cm wide, very stiff, tightly woven and has a proper solid feel about it. The cut out piece is a 40 by 40 cm square, which I stretched over a piece of MDF to ensure that it wouldn’t shrink or warp.
Here, initial layer of caulk is put onto the canvas. As it turned out, it was far too much and about half of it had to be scraped off and tossed into the bin. As so often, less is more.
Here the caulk is spread in an even, thin layer. This is the ‘foundation’ layer, which is supposed to be worked ‘into’ the fabric. Some people do it, other don’t. Once this step was done, I left the piece to cure over night.
Now it’s time for the messy part – I squeezed out sizeable blob of caulk into a plastic container and mixed it together with some brown acrylic household paint. Sand and small gravel was thrown in ‘to taste’ just to provide some initial texture. The mixture was then spread evenly over the piece.
This step is done immediately after the previous one – caulk/paint mixture is to be wet, so that covering material can stick to it! Since I intent to primarily use this technique for demarcation of woods sections, I covered majority of text piece with flock mix I normally use for that type of terrain. Once spread in even layer, I tapped it lightly, trying to ‘massage’ it into the caulk/paint mixture.
Whatever surface was left uncovered by woods surface flock, I used for an ad hock test for other landscape materials. A strip was covered by very fine sand (a road, obviously). Top section on top left is covered with short fibre grass. Finally, the dark green pieces are fine flock I use as standard for my GHQ hexes.
At this stage, the test piece was left to cure for twenty four hours.
Following evening I took the still mounted test piece outside, turned it upside down and shook it vigorously until nothing else flew of it. And yes, a LOT of covering materials fell to the ground. But… a lot more stayed on. The pictures above show the state of the test piece after ‘shake-off’. Woods flock mixture and green flock adhered to the caulk admirably. Fibre grass coverage is OK, but not perfect – underlying caulk shows clearly through. I’m least pleased with the fine sand ‘road’ – most of the sand failed to adhere to the underlying layer. Perhaps sealing it with diluted PVA glue would render a better result. But even this section could in my opinion be used on wargaming table.
Here’s quick demonstration of flexibility of the test piece. I can bend it quite severely without caulk cracking or cover materials falling off. At the same time it must be said that it is quite stiff and doesn’t follow terrain contours as easily as I hoped it would.
Final verdict – I am quite happy with this initial test. Things can definitely be improved, but the basic concept is sound and I will proceed with it for my wood sections. I’m also quite sure that it can be used with success for other types of terrain, such as pasture fields, roads and even rough terrain and marshes.